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In Lowgren’s paper “Articulating the Use Qualities of Digital Designs”, he talked about the use quality “identity”, cell phone skins, and the “desire to project just the right image”, but what about a design that has an identity inside of it, a design that has the power to transform its user… rather than projecting an image, the design would have the power to influence how the user acts, behaves, and subjectively feels, it would in a sense transform their identity.

So instead of projecting just the right image or identity, I’m curious to see if it’s possible to design something in such a way that just by interacting with it the person changes how they act or behave.

Here is how I think I might go about designing such a thing. For this example, I will attempt to design a cell phone that has contained within it the general characteristics of the alpha-male identity.

First, I need to clearly define some general characteristics of the alpha-male:

– Bigger, visually arresting appearance

– Enjoys themselves and the moment

– Moves slowly as if in control of time itself

– Focuses on the world around them in a relaxed manner

– Are in control of themselves

– Able to take control of a situation and resolve it

– Strong, martial, skilled, intelligent, and a leader

– Their unfailing strength restores the strength of all

Next, I need to take these general characteristics and transfer them into a cell phone. Here are some considerations to take into account when designing the “alpha-male” cell phone.

– A little bigger (to help it stand out and appear stronger)

– A little heavier (to give it a feel of strength and control, and also to cause the user to move more slowly when they hold the phone and bring it up to their ears)

– A little more solid (once again to create a sense of durability, strength, and immovability)

– It has a visually arresting appearance (to give the phone a look of leadership and make it stand out)

– Is both soft and hard; its softness/hardness comes from being relaxed unto a powerful frame that possesses a beautiful gravity (to make the cell phone appear steady, powerful, and trustworthy)

– Its ring tone is deep, resonates, and is unhurried (this will push the user to interact with the phone in the manner of the alpha-male, when they go to answer the phone, they shouldn’t be in a hurry to do so, but rather they should answer the phone in a slow, aware, and controlled way similar to how an alpha-male would)

In this example, I wanted to design a phone that has an identity contained within it When the user interacts with that phone, that identity will “seep” into them and transform the way the user acts and appears, so that they gradually in time begin to resemble that object’s identity – in this case the identity of the alpha-male.


I’m going to apply Gadamerian theory of life-world as a means of understanding an interaction with a digital artifact from the user perspective.

I define life-world as: the world as experienced by someone in a particular time and place.

So I need to take into consideration how someone’s life-world shapes their ability to understand an artifact.

As an example of an interaction, I played a Nintendo game called Ninja Gaiden. As I was going through the process of trying to understand the game world, its rules, and the meaning of its symbols, I encountered a “great” difficulty – a wall.

I was unable to jump over the wall, and whenever I tried to jump my little ninja character would become stuck on the side of the wall. When I first saw him on the wall, I thought he was trying to climb the wall, like I would climb a ladder in my world. And when I tried to move him up or down, he was totally immobile, eventually the timer would run out and it would be game-over.

After “many” failed attempts of trying to get him off the wall, I eventually thought to myself “if I were climbing a wall in my world how would I get down from the wall”? After thinking this, I was able to translate immediately my experience of climbing into the game world, and then I intuitively knew which button combination to press to get down from the wall.

After this, I realized that in the little ninja character’s reality, he was not trying to climb the wall like I first thought, but rather he was doing ninja tricks; he was trying to jump from wall to wall, like a squirrel leaping from tree to tree.

Is this an example of “fusing” my life-world with the life-world of the ninja gaiden?

Folks. I don’t know how to explore this so can you help me tease out the “binary” conversation we had yesterday?

Classical or Baroque?
Rap or Hip Hop?
Loud or Quiet?
Tall or short?

“Wolfflin {blitzer} suggests that Classical and Baroque paintings may be distinguished in terms of their ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’ clarity (176, Barnard). What I hear is that there are these absolute terms, removed from the context of the art(ifact) itself.

Let’s use Rob’s example of the iPhone. Stripped of social context, looking at the iPhone from an absolute perspective I think I could make this list about the way to look at smartphones. Insider tip: I’m really opposing the iPhone to some Android phones.

Touch Screen/Button input
Russian Doll Navigation (digging deeper and deeper into an app)/ Singular back button
Single service carrier/Multiple service carriers

I could continue making the list but I think the point is made. So, let’s look at the Russian Doll Navigation. In an the tweetie client for example, I go to my feed, click on a link, see the profile, click on the link again, load the browser, and to go back to my feed I need to go back, back, back back. It’s like a Russian Doll stack. But, the iPhone also has that big round button that lets you get to the home screen at any time. It also has some new multitasking features.

That being said, the binary argument doesn’t work. Perhaps that means I haven’t reduced the interactions low enough. Maybe there always is a way to reduce it to binary. Even so, I think that still doesn’t get at many of those ooh, ahh wonderful feeling when our phones do something that seems magical. That “experience” thing.

After reading the Alien paper, I felt that it interpreted the film primarily through the lens of gender. So I thought I would add an additional interpretation through the lens of race (xenophobia) and nation.

The film could be interpreted through the lens of race (xenophobia) and nation. For example, the alien is obviously something other than the humans on board the ship, so the fear that the humans have of the aliens’ monstrousness might be in part based on the alien’s otherness, as well as fears of colonization or miscegenation, the entering of a cultural space by an alien intruder and the transformation of that space to fit the needs and desires of that alien-other at the expense of its original inhabitants.

Within the article, they mentioned a scene where Ripley showed reluctance in allowing a potentially polluted member of their group back into the sanctity of their ship for fear of endangering the integrity of that group. This scene could also be read as a reminder that in the human world, women are often placed as being carriers and protectors of cultural values inter-generationally, so Ripley’s desire to protect the ship’s integrity was a demonstration of the desire to maintain a societal order created and determined by human motives and values, rather than one created by an alien-other. So in short, Ripley is a mother.

Tech Crunch has been digging and buzzing to find out everything they can about the “facbeook phone.” Early this morning, Michael Arrington posted his interview with Mark Zuckerberg about their “mobile platform.” It’s been buzzing about the twitterverse all day.

Mark Zuckerberg: I think it’s different in different places. For example, take Instant Personalization. Our goal is to make it so there’s as little friction as possible to having a social experience. So you go to some apps, take Rotten Tomatoes, which we just launched last week. If people had to click this blue button to Connect, then some percent of them would, but it would be the minority because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get before you click it. If you had to put up some modal dialog then that would be crazy from a UX perspective. But the fact that they can do that instant integration for the users that want it means that everyone has a good experience as soon as they get there.

On phones we can actually do something better. We can do a single sign-on if we do a good integration with a phone, rather than just doing something where you go to an app and it’s automatically social or having to sign into each app individually. Those are the two options on the web. Why not for mobile? Just make it so that you log into your phone once, and then everything that you do on your phone is social.

Michael Arrington: You’re turning on a layer…

Mark Zuckerberg: That’s what we’re trying to do. The reason I just gave that example is that some things, like the implementation is different on mobile.

One thing that I think is really important — that I think is context for this, is that I generally think that most other companies now are undervaluing how important social integration is. So even the companies that are starting to come around to thinking, ‘oh maybe we should do some social stuff’, I still think a lot of them are only thinking about it on a surface layer, where it’s like “OK, I have my product, maybe I’ll add two or three social features and we’ll check that box”. That’s not what social is.

Social – you have to design it in from the ground up. These experiences, like what Zynga is doing or what a company like Quora is doing, I think that they have just a really good social integration. They’ve designed their whole product around the idea that your friends will be here with you. Everyone has a real identity for themselves. And those are fundamental building blocks. Now, I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get the mobile environments that you see today to a state where you can build really robust social applications on top of it. So that’s the biggest driving force for us — to try to work with these folks and see how deep we can get on our own to make sure that we can build that plumbing. Our goal is to make it exist.

Okay, apologies for the enormous quote. The context was important.

I want to talk about the social layer and in some ways link this to expression theories. Mark Zuckerberg does not want to build a social layer. I think that’s what we have now. You go to a website, click the connect button and some social integration is slapped on top.

But, I’m thinking about Bell. I’m thinking about our invisibile states of mind and the way that Zuckerberg has to translate his vision to his developers and to interviewers like Michael Arrington. He has to translate an abstract idea, this social shell that will integrate into our mobile lifestyles, into something that will make sense to us.

Photoshop uses layers, lasagna uses layers. We understand what layer means. It seems to me that Mark Zuckerberg wants to penetrate our lives with the social interactions and connections that does so well right now.

So, I guess my question is, for people like us, and Zuckerberg or anyone who is working on a concept or idea and has to sell it. How do we translate these invisible states of mine into a material form?

We do this through criticism, sketching, designing, writing and many other forms of communication. But, essentially, it comes down to this: how do I make sure the designs our teams work on get developed the way we want them to? I think expression theory can help. Can it?

Forgive the personal reflections embedded in this post, however there is substance. After the first few weeks of challenging myself to dive deep into such heady material in an attempt to understand the underpinnings of various fields of thought, the most recent Smith reading puts me in familiar territory: I read it. I understood it. I can dig it. If I spent just a little more time organizing my thoughts on all of this theory, I could write some seriously fancy-pants papers that might even get published.

But then I force myself to switch gears and remember that I am not headed into academia anytime soon. I will hopefully be in a design job in about a year, and as tempting as it may seem, I don’t want to be known as the designer that talks about Foucault and Saussure but has no clue how they apply to my job. So in the middle of this reading my brain switched from “understand the history of how micro theories of culture have come about and how they are situated in cultural studies with regards to macro theories of culture” to:

“Understand the history of blah blah blah blah…What does this mean to interaction design?” Read the rest of this entry »

Chapter 1: Introduction
1) Definition frameworks of culture
2) Themes of cultural theory
3) Areas of debate

Dick Hebdige in his book “Subculture: The meaning of style” talks about two basic trajectories in defining culture.

  • First the classical and conservative notion which considered culture as a standard of aesthetic excellence i.e “the best that has been thought and said in the world” (Matthew Arnold, 1868).
  • The second notion is that of an anthropological once which considered culture as “the study of relationships between elements in a whole way of life” (Raymond Williams, 1965).

Even though the latter notion seems liberal, it early proponents (like Richard Hoggarts and Raymond Williams) believed that such a study required a literary sensibilty to “read” the society and that the two different notions of culture could actually reconcile.

At this juncture enters our hero Roland Barthes, a French writer. Smitten by the works of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Barthes wanted to look at culture through the semiotic lens. Even though his method was rooted in linguistics, when applied to cultural theory it opened up new possibilities.

This history tour was to identify how these these three specific eras map directly to the definition frameworks and themes of cultural theory in this reading. It also helped me understand the article a little better. So I thought I would share this.

Ok so I thought I’d try to apply the exercise we did yesterday in class (structuralist examination of punk and Native American fashion) and apply it to an “interactive artifact.”  I decided to do it on the first webpage that I had up on my browser. Surprise surprise, it was the Facebook news feed. Well that makes it easy, as I don’t have to spend time describing what it is, as I assume everyone in a college class knows about Facebook :).

Step 1: denotation

portrait photos
photos of people/things/places

Textual signifiers
hours/minutes update

textual emphasis

clickable names of people
clickable comments

Step 2 – pull out the connotation

Feeds, status, when updated -> wire services, up to the minute news.
Portraits / headshots -> personals / self advertising.
Minimal design, textual emphasis -> news and information is all that matters.

Step 3 – further distilling

Site plugs you into the 24/7 news pulse. “All the news, all the time.”
Important events aren’t just created by others locally, nationally or internationally, it’s your actions too.
Your input matters, you matter.


The goal of this exercise was for me to see if I ran across any problems doing this analysis on something interactive. Questions did arise, which I’ll outline below:

1. By doing this exercise with an interactive website, I wasn’t sure if I should just focus on one page or the site as a whole. I suppose it can be done eitherway depending on what the unit of analysis is.

2. Going with #1, should I interact with the page, if so, what parts, and how far should I drill down.

3. Similar to our examination of punk fashion, I feel like this exercise is simplified by the fact that I already have a good understanding of social networking sites. How would my analysis of an unknown website work out, would the results be relevant and on target?

4. Is something that is clickable or “interactable” a signifier?

5. Is design a signifier? At first I wasn’t sure, but then I remembered or discussion of how the cut on a piece of fashion can be a signifier of haute couture, so I’ll say yes.

That’s about it. Comments or feedback? At a later date I’ll go back and do this exercise again but with a site that I’m not as informed with.